Childhood Obesity Raises Risk of Arterial Damage in Adulthood, Study Finds

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Researchers from the United Kingdom combed studies to figure out which of several indicators, such as body mass index or waist circumference, were predictors of future cardiac events or health conditions, like hypertension or prediabetes.

Being obese as a child raises the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke as an adult, a large British study has found.

Researchers from the University of Surrey gathered data from 300,000 children—average age 10—across 18 studies, and compared physical characteristics in childhood with health outcomes 25 years later.

The team culled 1954 studies from 8 different databases, and searched for those that contained measurements for body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and measures of skin-fold thickness in children. They sought those to follow up with the children 25 years later to find out which of these markers were indicators of cardiac events such as heart attacks or strokes, or conditions such as hypertension or prediabetes, a condition in which the body cannot adequately metabolize blood glucose.


The researchers found that having a high BMI in childhood was a strong predictor arterial damage and impaired glucose tolerance, but a less strong predictor of hypertension and stroke. The damage showed up even if the children lose weight in the intervening years. That’s why lead author Martin Whyte said childhood obesity must be taken seriously. “It is worrying that obesity is becoming endemic in our society,” he said in a statement.

While events like heart attacks and strokes may not have emerged by the time researchers examined their health records 25 years later, the damage still put these young adults at risk of cardiac events later in life.

“The adverse effects of adult obesity are well known, but what we have found is that obesity in childhood can cause lasting arterial damage which could potentially lead to life threatening illness,” he said.

While the study was conducted in the United Kingdom, concern about childhood obesity has been a problem in the United States, too. Childhood obesity has increased over the past 30 years, although CDC has reported progress in combatting obesity among the youngest children very recently. However, disparities remain between white children and racial and ethnic minority groups, and lower-income children are more likely to experience obesity.


Ajala O, Mold F, Boughton C, Cooke D, Whyte M. Childhood predictors of cardiovascular disease in adulthood: a systematic review and meta-analysis [published online May 25, 2017]. Obesity Reviews. 2017; doi: 10.1111/obr.12561.